Farage’s Populism

Farage is reviving Nick Griffin's divisive legacy in British politics; Simon Pearson examines what that means in the context of 2024 and how socialists should interpret this reactionary threat.

 

In the contemporary landscape of British politics, the rise of populist1 and nationalist movements has been a significant development, reflecting broader trends seen in recent EU elections where far-right parties made substantial gains. Two notable British entities in this sphere are Reform UK, led (owned) by Nigel Farage, and the British National Party (BNP), previously spearheaded by Nick Griffin.

Despite their distinct origins and political trajectories, both parties share common ground in their critique of the establishment and their focus on issues such as immigration and national sovereignty. This article explores the evolution of these two political movements, comparing their electoral policies and strategies, and examining the broader implications for British politics.

Reform UK and Nigel Farage

Nigel Farage, the figurehead of the campaign to leave the EU and a hardline Brexiteer, has been the catalyst for what has proven an absolute failure. Farage’s relentless push for Brexit2, which he framed as reclaiming national sovereignty and independence, has resulted in economic turmoil and political instability. While proponents argue that the wrong kind of Brexit was delivered, the reality is that there was no good way to split from the UK’s major trading bloc without significant and often reactionary consequences.

“Farage’s relentless push for Brexit, which he framed as reclaiming national sovereignty and independence, has resulted in economic turmoil and political instability.”

The complex interdependence between the UK and the EU meant that any form of Brexit would inevitably lead to disruptions in trade, supply chains, and regulatory alignment. Farage’s vision of a swift and beneficial exit was fundamentally flawed, overlooking the economic realities and long-term repercussions of severing ties with the EU. This has left the UK grappling with economic challenges, diminished international influence, and a deeply divided society3, proving that the promises of Brexit were unattainable from the outset.

Farage’s recent political journey began with UKIP, where he pushed for Britain’s exit from the European Union. His leadership saw UKIP rise from a fringe party to a significant force in UK politics, culminating in the 2016 Brexit referendum. After stepping down from UKIP, Farage launched the Brexit Party to continue advocating for a decisive exit from the EU. The party’s success in the 2019 European Parliament elections, where it won the most seats of any UK party, highlighted Farage’s continued influence and the public’s support for his vision of Brexit.

Here, the Brexit Party MEPs turn their backs during the playing of the EU anthem.

Reform UK, originally founded as the Brexit Party in 2019, emerged from widespread dissatisfaction with the handling of Brexit by mainstream political parties. Structured as a limited company and majority-owned by Nigel Farage, Reform UK sees Farage once again at its helm. Farage, has been instrumental in the party’s formation and rise. His charismatic and populist approach resonates with many (older) voters disillusioned with traditional politics. Farage’s ability to seemingly communicate complex issues straightforwardly (the man in the pub vibe) and his relentless campaigning for Brexit have solidified his position as a key but divisive figure in British politics.

While the mainstream media and the two main political parties running for office may have moved on from Brexit, we have not. Farage should be reminded at every opportunity of the significant failures and turmoil leaving the European Union has caused. The economic and social disruptions it has triggered should remain a key point of critique against his political legacy.

Although Reform UK supporters may bristle at comparisons to BNP followers, the similarities between the two are undeniable. This is evidenced by the fact that at least 11 Reform UK candidates have been dismissed4 for their appalling views, highlighting the shared underpinnings of extremism.

BNP and Nick Griffin

Conversely, the British National Party (BNP) experienced its peak in the early 2000s under the odious leadership of Nick Griffin. Griffin, who became leader in 1999, attempted to rebrand the party and broaden its appeal beyond its traditional base of far-right extremists. However, the BNP’s origins were entrenched in the racist, xenophobic, and nationalist movements of the 1980s and 1990s. Under Griffin’s leadership, the BNP aimed to present a more respectable image while retaining its core policies on immigration and national identity, steeped in bigotry and exclusion.

Griffin’s leadership style was both controversial and divisive, often veering into openly fascistic language. His attempts to soften the party’s far-right image by focusing on issues like immigration were disingenuous and dangerous, resonating with and inciting xenophobic and racist sentiments within certain segments of the electorate. Despite his efforts to sanitise the party’s image, the BNP struggled with its extremist reputation, internal conflicts, and a history of promoting hatred and division.

Protests outside BBC Television Centre ahead of Griffin's appearance on Question Time. James M Thorne
Protests outside BBC Television Centre ahead of Griffin’s appearance on Question Time
photo by James M Thorne

The BNP gained some electoral success, most notably winning seats in the European Parliament in 20095, but this was a fleeting moment of notoriety rather than a genuine political achievement. Griffin’s tenure ended in 2014, and the party has since rightfully declined significantly, overshadowed by the rise of other nationalist movements like Reform UK and Britain First.

Cult of Personality

Both Reform UK and the BNP have been significantly shaped by the personalities of their leaders, Nigel Farage and Nick Griffin, respectively. Farage’s dominance in Reform UK is evident in its structure as a limited company, where he holds majority ownership and maintains significant control. His return to leadership, usurping Richard Tice, underscores his central role in the party’s identity, strategy and undemocratic structure. Farage’s media presence6, public speeches, and charismatic persona have attracted a loyal following, making him synonymous with the party’s brand and agenda.

Similarly, the BNP under Nick Griffin was heavily centred around his leadership. Griffin’s attempts to rebrand the party and steer its policies reflected his vision and strategy. His leadership style, combining directness with a controversial edge, attracted a segment of the electorate that felt marginalised by mainstream politics. Griffin’s personal influence was so pervasive that the BNP’s fortunes were closely tied to his public image and political manoeuvres. This cult of personality around both leaders highlights the significant impact individual leadership has had on the direction and perception of these parties.

“I’m not a Nazi, my dad was in the RAF during the Second World War” An attempt by Griffin7 to rehabilitate his abhorrent views on BBC Question Time in 2009

Fear of Islamic Extremism

Both Farage and Griffin have cynically exploited the fear of Islamic extremism (conflating this to include all Muslims) to garner support and propagate far-right discourse. Farage has often emphasised the threat of Islamic extremism in his rhetoric, using it as a justification for stringent immigration policies and enhanced national security measures. This strategy aims to instil fear and mobilise voters concerned about terrorism and cultural changes associated with immigration.

Griffin’s BNP capitalised on similar fears, pushing their racist and exclusionary agenda by framing Muslim communities in the UK as incompatible with British values8 and a threat to national security. Griffin frequently highlighted issues related to Muslim communities, using them as scapegoats to foster division and hatred. This approach not only galvanised support from those with xenophobic and Islamophobic tendencies but also reinforced the BNP’s position as a defender of British culture against perceived external threats.

“Both Nigel Farage and Nick Griffin have cynically exploited the fear of Islamic extremism to garner support and propagate far-right discourse.”

These tactics of exploiting fears related to Muslims and Islamic extremism have been central to Farage’s and Griffin’s political strategies, reflecting a broader pattern in far-right movements where such fears justify exclusionary and nationalist policies. This exploitation of fear is a clear indication of their underlying racist and xenophobic ideologies.

Electoral Policies

Reform UK

Reform UK’s policies centre around national sovereignty, economic reform, and immigration. The party’s primary objective has been to ensure a clean and complete Brexit, free from the perceived compromises and concessions of mainstream parties. This involves taking back control of borders, laws, and trade policies. Economically, Reform UK advocates for lower taxes, reduced regulation, and support for small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs). The party argues that freeing businesses from EU regulations will boost the UK economy and create jobs.

Additionally, Reform UK promotes investment in public services, particularly the NHS, but emphasises efficiency and accountability in public spending. On immigration, Reform UK supports a points-based system like that used in Australia. This policy aims to control the number of immigrants based on skills and economic needs, prioritising those who can contribute to the UK economy. The party also emphasises the importance of “integrating” immigrants into British society and ensuring that immigration levels are “sustainable”. These are attempts to couch the idea of immigration as undesirable and Britishness as superior without needing to be explicit.

BNP

The BNP’s policies under Griffin were more radical and openly racist, focusing heavily on immigration and the preservation of a distorted notion of British cultural identity. The party advocated for a complete halt to all immigration, arguing that it threatened British jobs and social cohesion. Griffin promoted voluntary repatriation for immigrants and strict controls on new arrivals, policies that were fundamentally rooted in racism and xenophobia. Economically, the BNP took a protectionist stance, opposing globalisation and free trade agreements that it believed harmed British industries.

The party supported renationalising key industries and increasing investment in British manufacturing and agriculture. Griffin argued that such measures were needed to protect British jobs and ensure economic self-sufficiency, but this language masked a deeper agenda of isolationism and economic nationalism.

The BNP also emphasised law and order, advocating for harsher penalties9 for crimes and a more robust police presence, often with a focus on racially charged issues. Education policies focused on promoting British history and culture, with a view to fostering national pride and identity, but these policies were aimed at promoting a narrow, exclusionary, and often revisionist view of British history that suited their racist agenda.

Section from the 2005 BNP manifesto - We will end the practice of politically correct indoctrination in all its guises and restore
discipline in the classroom, give authority back to teachers and put far greater
emphasis on training young people in the industrial and technological skills necessary
in the modern world. We will abolish student tuition fees – which are a stealth tax
upon education, and create apprenticeships in our rebuilt manufacturing industry.
We will also seek to instil in our young people knowledge of and pride in the history,
cultures, and heritage of the native peoples of Britain.
From the BNP 2005 manifesto – this is part of the education section.

British Exceptionalism

Both leaders use British exceptionalism—a belief in the unique and superior role of Britain in global history—as a rhetorical tool. This involves celebrating Britain’s wartime leadership and resilience and linking it to current political goals. For Farage, this manifests in narratives about reclaiming British sovereignty from the EU, drawing parallels with the fight for freedom during World War II. For Griffin and the BNP, it involved portraying immigrants and multiculturalism as threats to the cultural purity and strength that won Britain the war.

By using such imagery and narratives, both Farage and Griffin aim to inspire a sense of patriotic duty and nostalgia, encouraging their supporters to view contemporary political issues through the lens of historical greatness and exceptionalism. This not only rallies support but legitimises their policies as part of a larger, historically significant struggle to preserve and protect British identity and values.

These tactics distort historical events to promote divisive and exclusionary ideologies. The invocation of British exceptionalism masks the inherent racism and xenophobia in their policies, encouraging a narrow and isolationist view of national identity. It is essential to critically examine and challenge these narratives to prevent the perpetuation of hate and division.

Use of WW2 Iconography and British Exceptionalism

Both Reform UK10 and the BNP have leveraged World War II iconography and themes of British exceptionalism to bolster their nationalist messages. This strategy taps into deep-seated cultural narratives and evokes a sense of national pride and nostalgia.

The BNP notably used a Spitfire in its advertising, directly invoking the Battle of Britain and the heroism associated with Britain’s wartime defence. This imagery is powerful, evoking memories of British resilience and victory against a formidable enemy. The Spitfire symbolises not only military prowess but a period when national unity and patriotism were paramount. The BNP aimed to position itself as the defender of British values and sovereignty, drawing a direct line between historical heroism and contemporary political battles against perceived threats to national identity11.

Nigel Farage similarly tapped into World War II iconography and events to emphasise British exceptionalism. His recent attendance at D-Day memorial12 event, with personal photographer in tow, for instance, underscores this connection. Farage often frames contemporary political struggles, such as Brexit, in terms of defending British sovereignty and independence, akin to the wartime fight against tyranny. By doing so, he evokes the spirit of Churchillian defiance and positions himself and his party as the rightful heirs to this legacy of British exceptionalism.

Reform UKs “Contract with the People”

Economic Policy:

Reform UK’s economic policies are rooted in neoliberal ideology, emphasising tax reductions, curbing government expenditure, and deregulation. These measures disproportionately benefit the wealthy and large corporations, further entrenching economic inequality. There is also a specific if contradictory emphasis on small businesses, which connects to a perceived reactionary base in that social layer.

Overall, however, reducing taxes typically favours the highly affluent, widening the gap between the rich and the poor. Cuts in government spending usually result in reduced funding for essential public services, which adversely impacts the working class and vulnerable populations. This approach fails to address the systemic issues of wealth disparity, reinforcing power dynamics that favour capital over labour.

Social Issues:

The contract’s stance on immigration and cultural matters is notably reactionary. By focusing on reducing immigration and opposing what they term “woke ideology” in public institutions, Reform UK diverts attention from pressing economic problems and fosters division. Such talk creates scapegoats out of immigrants and diversity initiatives, distracting from the structural inequalities perpetuated by the capitalist system. This divisive approach undermines social cohesion and fails to recognise the value of multiculturalism and inclusivity in enriching society.

Reform UK is also acutely and dangerously sensitive to the broader contemporary and global culture war and various intersections of oppression they can exploited. For example, their education policy leads with a pledge to first ban “Transgender Ideology” from secondary education (the idea of trans people as ideological is a dehumanising dogwhistle) and then turns to the American bugbear of curbing “Critical Race Theory” from schools.

There is an attempt being made here to become a broad tent party of bigotry, bringing together anti-queer and racist politics within the time-worn framing of protecting children from some insidious influence. Be that influence a “foreign” or internal “corruption”. Racial equality and queerness are thereby also implied to be unnatural and dangerous ideas. What that means in practice is the social murder of young queer children, who will have no way of understanding themselves, and the unopposed perpetuation of racism through the British curriculum.  

“There is an attempt being made here to become a broad tent party of bigotry, bringing together anti-queer and racist politics within the time-worn framing of protecting children from some insidious influence.”

Governance and Public Services:

Reform UK’s proposals for public services, particularly the NHS, are framed in terms of efficiency and reducing wait times. However, the underlying methods likely involve increased privatisation and greater private sector involvement, which can lead to reduced access and quality of care for those unable to afford private services. Treating the nation like a business prioritises profit over people, which contradicts the principle of universal public services that serve the needs of all citizens equally.

Energy and Environment:

The emphasis on maximising oil and gas extraction to reduce energy costs and spur economic growth is shortsighted and environmentally destructive. This approach neglects the urgent need for sustainable energy solutions and exacerbates climate change. Farage and Reform UK’s ridicule of Net Zero13 initiatives and their portrayal of such policies as economically damaging reflect a failure to recognise the long-term benefits of sustainable development. Prioritising immediate economic gains over environmental sustainability is a regressive stance that endangers future generations.

Jobs and Diversity:

The criticism of jobs focused on diversity, equity, and inclusion as “non-jobs” reveals a dismissive attitude towards efforts to address systemic inequalities in the workplace. Such roles are crucial for fostering inclusive environments that value diverse perspectives and ensure fair treatment for employees. Dismissing these positions undermines progress towards a more equitable society and ignores the importance of addressing discrimination and promoting social justice in all spheres of life.

The Reform UK “Contract with the People” promotes a neoliberal framework prioritising market solutions and individualism over collective welfare and social justice. The document sustains economic exploitation, fosters division through its social policies, and neglects the urgent need for environmental sustainability. By ridiculing Net Zero initiatives and dismissing diversity-focused jobs, Reform UK reveals a regressive stance that fails to address the root causes of societal issues and perpetuates existing inequalities.

The Current General Election

As the current general election draws on, figures like Lee Anderson, who defected from the Conservative Party where he served as Deputy Chairman and is now the only Reform MP, had become prominent voices14. Anderson frequently speaks about “taking the country back,” but it remains ambiguous whom he believes the country needs to be taken back from. This rhetoric often implies a need to reclaim national identity and control, typically at the expense of immigrants and perceived external influences.

Richard Tice, former leader of Reform UK, consistently criticises the state, arguing the government has failed the British people. He calls for “true believers” to implement strict immigration policies, positioning his party as the only solution to a “broken system”. Tice’s hyperbole underscores a narrative of betrayal, suggesting that only his party can restore British sovereignty and order. Ben Habib, the Deputy Leader, sparked outrage with his extreme views, including the appalling suggestion Britain should “absolutely” let migrants drown15 in the English Channel. Such statements highlight the inhumane stance some within the party are willing to take on immigration.

Despite claiming to be insurgents, the reality is that Reform UK represents establishment figures who have shifted their allegiance but not their fundamental ideologies. Anderson, Tice, and Habib are not newcomers challenging the status quo but established political actors continuing to promote policies that reinforce existing power structures.

The anti-climate change stance and opposition to net zero emissions from Reform’s leading figures appear to be driven more by loyalty to their fossil fuel donors than by adherence to scientific evidence. This alignment with fossil fuel interests undermines the urgent scientific consensus on climate action. Furthermore, this anti-science narrative has permeated into the Conservative Party, jeopardising the UK’s environmental commitments and efforts to combat climate change effectively.

These extreme views do not resonate with many working-class people across the country. Most of whom are focused on practical issues such as job security, healthcare, and education, rather than divisive and inflammatory discourse. The British public has historically valued compassion and pragmatism over exclusionary and harmful policies. The working class understands the importance of solidarity and community. They are more likely to support policies that improve their quality of life and provide genuine solutions to socio-economic issues, than those that scapegoat vulnerable groups and perpetuate division.

Many people across the UK want to see a new government that addresses their real needs, not fear-mongering against an imaginary other. The rhetoric from Reform UK leaders positions themselves as defenders of the nation against perceived threats, yet their policies and backgrounds reveal them as entrenched establishment figures. Their approach risks further polarising society and diverting attention from the substantive issues that affect everyday lives, such as economic wellbeing, public health, and education.

“The rhetoric from Reform UK leaders positions themselves as defenders of the nation against perceived threats, yet their policies and backgrounds reveal them as entrenched establishment figures.”

Mercenary Nature of Reform UK Candidates

The mercenary nature of Reform UK’s candidates is evident in their strategic selection of constituencies, often parachuting in figures with little to no local connection purely based on electoral gain. Nigel Farage, for instance, chose to stand in Clacton, a seat known for its Eurosceptic leanings, while Richard Tice selected Boston & Skegness, areas with strong Brexit support. Rupert Lowe, a farmer from Oxfordshire, opted for Great Yarmouth, far from his home base, highlighting the opportunistic approach of Reform UK’s leadership.

A striking example of this opportunism is the recent replacement of Anthony Mack, the former Reform UK candidate for Clacton. Mack, who had been actively preparing to contest the seat, was abruptly replaced by Nigel Farage just 15 minutes before Farage announced his candidacy to the public. Disappointed and disillusioned, Mack decided to stand as an independent, criticising Farage for his lack of understanding of local issues and expressing concern over his ability to serve the Clacton constituency effectively.

Richard Tice16, a multi-millionaire property tycoon and Brexit Party MEP for the East of England, exemplifies this strategy. Tice was parachuted into Hartlepool17, a post-industrial town recovering from years of austerity, replacing the original Brexit Party candidate. Despite having no local ties, Tice’s candidacy was driven by the constituency’s potential for electoral success rather than any genuine commitment to the community. Tice’s background further underscores the transactional nature of Reform UK’s approach. Co-founder of Leave.EU with Arron Banks, Tice was deeply involved in the pro-Brexit campaign, which adopted an aggressive, Trump-inspired style that exploited fears around immigration. Although Tice has attempted to distance himself from Leave.EU’s more controversial activities, his role in the organisation cannot be overlooked. His history includes promoting anti-immigrant propaganda and engaging in activities that have attracted fines from the Electoral Commission for breaches of electoral law. Moreover, Tice’s wealthy background and business interests, including his tenure at the Mayfair-based Quidnet Capital Partners LLP and his familial ties to property development, reveal a stark contrast to his populist rhetoric. Despite positioning himself against the “metropolitan elite,” Tice’s priorities, such as scrapping inheritance tax, clearly align with the interests of the affluent. His claim that businessmen like himself should lead government efforts to increase efficiency demonstrates a disregard for the complexities and democratic nature of public service.

“Despite positioning himself against the “metropolitan elite,” Tice’s priorities, such as scrapping inheritance tax, clearly align with the interests of the affluent.”

This pattern of deploying high-profile candidates with substantial resources to target key constituencies, regardless of local ties18, reflects Reform UK’s broader strategy. It emphasises electoral opportunism and the leveraging of personal wealth and influence over genuine grassroots engagement, further highlighting the mercenary nature of the party’s approach to politics.

Furthermore, there is a significant question about what these parachuted candidates understand about the deep-seated issues affecting the decline of seaside resorts. The economic and social challenges faced by towns like Clacton, Skegness, Great Yarmouth, and others have been ongoing long before immigration became a hot topic. Issues such as the decline of traditional industries, seasonal unemployment, and underinvestment in local infrastructure are complex and deeply rooted. The superficial solutions Reform UK candidates propose fail to address these underlying problems, suggesting a lack of engagement with the communities they seek to represent.

Ultimately, if these candidates are unsuccessful, it is almost certain that you will never see them again in these areas.

Reform UK’s Influence on the Conservative Party

Reform UK, under the leadership of Nigel Farage, has played a significant role in pulling the Conservative Party further to the right, as both parties become increasingly embroiled in a battle to promote ever more extreme culture war narratives. Farage, often likened to a mini-Donald Trump due to his populist narrative and divisive strategies, has set the stage for a political environment where inflammatory and sensationalist issues take precedence over substantive policy discussions.

Nigel Farage’s influence on the Conservative Party is evident in several key areas and through specific instances and quotes from Conservative leaders. For example, Theresa May’s 2015 speech as Home Secretary, where she stated, “When immigration is too high, when the pace of change feels too fast, it’s impossible to build a cohesive society,” echoed Farage’s argument that high levels of immigration threaten social cohesion. Similarly, Boris Johnson’s emphasis on “taking back control” during the Brexit campaign highlighted Farage’s impact on Conservative policy direction, with Johnson often acknowledging Farage’s role in the Brexit movement.

This rightward shift is exemplified by figures such as Suella Braverman and Robert Jenrick19, who courted Farage’s hardline stances from within the Conservative Party. Both Braverman and Jenrick echoed Farage’s rhetoric on immigration, national identity, and law and order, attempting to harness the same populist appeal that has fuelled Reform UK’s rise. With Braverman calling on Tory voters to embrace Farage. Their alignment with Farage’s positions underscores the increasing influence of far-right ideology within mainstream conservative politics. As a result, the Tories find themselves in a perpetual race to outdo Reform UK in catering to the most reactionary elements of their base.

Farage’s influence has led the Conservative Party to adopt more hardline stances in several key policy areas. The introduction of an Australian-style points-based immigration system by the Conservative government, a policy long championed by Farage, prioritises immigrants based on skills and economic needs, closely aligning with Farage’s proposals. Additionally, Theresa May’s “hostile environment” policy for illegal immigrants aimed to make the UK inhospitable for undocumented migrants, reflecting Farage’s tough stance on immigration. The Conservative Party’s willingness to consider a no-deal Brexit during negotiations with the EU was also heavily influenced by Farage’s stance, pressuring the Conservatives to adopt a more uncompromising negotiating position.

As Home Secretary, Suella Braverman adopted Nigel Farage’s tough stance on law and order, emphasizing strict immigration policies and the need to “protect British values,” aligning with Farage’s nationalist and anti-immigration narrative. Similarly, when Attorney General Braverman echoed Farage’s views by arguing that woke culture is some kind of threat to our national identity, reflecting a clear alignment with Farage’s culture war rhetoric. These positions highlight the significant influence Farage has had on shaping Conservative Party policies and discourse.

Reform UK and the Conservative Party are continually locked in a constant battle to leave the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR), which they blame for obstructing their controversial Rwanda policy and undermining their “take back control” narrative. This struggle highlights their shared desire to assert national sovereignty at the expense of international legal commitments, framing the ECHR as a barrier to implementing hardline immigration measures and fulfilling their populist promises. This dynamic has also led to the amplification of ludicrous culture war references, such as exaggerated fears about immigration, attacks on so-called “woke” culture, and a romanticised view of British exceptionalism.

By constantly pushing the boundaries of acceptable political discourse, Reform UK has managed to shift the Overton window, making extreme positions seem more mainstream and forcing the Conservative Party to follow suit to retain its electoral base. This ongoing tug-of-war not only destabilises the political landscape but also erodes the quality of democratic debate in the UK.

Farage’s ambition for a reverse takeover of the Conservative Party is a crucial aspect of his political project, differing significantly from other far-right movements such as Nick Griffin’s British National Party. Farage has openly acknowledged that Labour is likely to win the next general election, but his aim is to position himself as the leader of the opposition in wating. This strategy poses a significant risk for the Labour movement; if a Labour government fails to address public discontent with politics and politicians, there is a real danger of an ugly hard-right populism gaining traction. The extreme fragmentation and crisis within the Conservative Party provide fertile ground for Farage’s ambitions. This scenario could potentially lead to the emergence of an Orban-style authoritarian party in the UK.

Whether serious sectors of British or international capital would endorse such a project depends on various factors, including Keir Starmer’s performance in managing the capitalist economy. Farage’s reverse takeover project, therefore, is not just a power play within the Conservative Party but a broader threat to the political stability and democratic integrity of the UK.

Protest Divisive Figures

Nigel Farage’s current election campaign has seen him twice become the target of protests, where drinks were thrown at him. These acts highlight a broader tradition of public opposition to divisive figures in British history. For instance, Oswald Mosley, the leader of the British Union of Fascists in the 1930s, faced significant public resistance, notably during the Battle of Cable Street in 1936 where thousands of anti-fascist demonstrators prevented his march through East London.

Similarly, Nick Griffin, the former leader of the BNP, encountered substantial opposition throughout his political career. Griffin’s attempts to spread his far-right ideology were met with protests and widespread condemnation. For example, in 2009, he was pelted with eggs by anti-fascist activists during a press conference outside the Houses of Parliament. These historical examples underscore a persistent public willingness to stand up against those who propagate divisive and harmful speech.

The protests against Farage, much like those against Mosley and Griffin, reflect a societal commitment to reject extremism. They are a reminder that the majority of working class people in the UK value solidarity and inclusivity over division and hatred. The actions against Farage resonate with the historical legacy of resisting fascism and far-right ideologies, demonstrates that the British public remains vigilant and active in defending democratic values and human rights.

Argument Against Division

The working class must recognise and reject the divisive oratory perpetuated by Nigel Farage and similar figures. History shows that such language exploits fears and creates divisions rather than addresses the root causes of socio-economic issues. The BNP, under Nick Griffin, used similar tactics, and communities came together to combat their influence. Just as we mobilised to defeat the BNP’s agenda, we must unite again to prevent Farage’s attempts to sow discord.

For Labour to effectively counter the rise of Reform UK, it must learn to listen to the working class again. The party needs authentic working-class voices to counter the narrative of the so-called “new elites,” as articulated by commentators like Matthew Goodwin. Labour must clearly articulate that Reform UK is not the party of insurgents but rather a Trojan horse for a more extreme Tory party. By doing so, Labour can re-establish its connection with the working-class electorate and present itself as the genuine representative of their interests, standing in stark contrast to the divisive and reactionary politics of Farage and his party.

“Labour must clearly articulate that Reform UK is not the party of insurgents but rather a Trojan horse for a more extreme Tory party.”

Farage’s focus on immigration and nationalism often diverts attention from pressing issues like wage stagnation, rising bills, inadequate public services, and economic inequality. By blaming immigrants and the EU, Farage offers easy scapegoats rather than meaningful solutions. Historically, the working class has shown immense power when united. The widespread opposition to the BNP, which included grassroots organising and public demonstrations, effectively marginalised Griffin’s divisive agenda.

“Historically, the working class has shown immense power when united. The widespread opposition to the BNP, which included grassroots organising and public demonstrations, effectively marginalised Griffin’s divisive agenda.”

This legacy of unity and resistance should inspire us to confront and reject Farage’s similar approach. The solution lies in solidarity and collective action. By focusing on common goals, such as fair wages, better working conditions, eliminating oppressions, and robust public services, we can build a stronger, more inclusive society. Rejecting the politics of fear and division is crucial in ensuring we do not fall prey to the same harmful rhetoric we successfully opposed in the past. Let’s remember our history and take to the streets once more to stand against those who seek to divide us.


Footnotes

  1. Now also twinned with conspiracy theorists and anti vaxxers. ↩︎
  2. Even advocating an extreme No Deal version. ↩︎
  3. That has continued to this day. ↩︎
  4. One candidate was sacked for a lack of activity, with Reform UK not realising they had died! ↩︎
  5. The BNP were dramatically wiped out in 2014, even though support for the far right surged significantly across Europe. The British people had finally come to their senses. ↩︎
  6. Even Lee Anderson has found himself sidelined as the media focus on Farage. ↩︎
  7. In this clip Griffin also claims David Duke was the leader of an “unviolent section of the Klu Klux Klan. ↩︎
  8. Farage echoed this by claiming on 26 May 2024 “We have a growing number of young people (Muslim) in this country who do not subscribe to British values, [who] in fact loathe much of what we stand for.” ↩︎
  9. The reactionary former Tory MP Lee Anderson, who now represents Reform UK supported a return of the death penalty ↩︎
  10. But whose side would Reform UK be rooting for? ↩︎
  11. Whoops, I better not mention their faux pas in leading an anti-immigration campaign with a poster featuring a Spitfire from 303 Squadron of the RAF, which was known as the “most effective Polish squadron during the Second World War.” ↩︎
  12. An event in which current Prime Minister Rishi Sunak left early, prompting Farage to comment that Sunak “doesn’t understand our culture,” which can only be described as a slur against British Asians. ↩︎
  13. Maybe being bankrolled by fossil fuel companies has something to do with it. ↩︎
  14. Less so, now that Farage is doing all the talking! ↩︎
  15. Nick Griffin had already beaten Habib to these disgusting comments, calling in 2009 for boats with African migrants to be sunk. ↩︎
  16. And a major donor to the party when leader. ↩︎
  17. Where he lost to the Labour Party candidate ↩︎
  18. Does a local party structure even exist? ↩︎
  19. Braverman and Jenrick are planning a rebel Tory manifesto pushing the party further right ↩︎

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Simon Pearson is on the Editorial Board of the Anti*Capitalist Resistance and is a Midlands-based political activist.

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